Each year festivals come and go but High Sierra remains. This July’s High Sierra Music Festival is the 28th installment of the beloved event, where for four nights (Thursday, July 5 – Sunday, July 8) attendees enter a musical utopia of sorts featuring a mix of acts that have become part of the family, some that were birthed out of the community surrounding the festival and newcomers with sounds fitting of the event’s general vibe.
High Sierra’s expansive Grandstand Stage, scenic Big Meadow Stage and tent-covered Vaudeville Stage are just the beginning. Additional venues include the air-conditioned and vibey The Music Hall as well as the intimate and rustic Mineral Building. The Music Hall hosts High Sierra’s signature Artist Playshops during the day, while the Mineral Building is where the unique late-night Troubadour Sessions are held. With just under a month until the High Sierra community gathers at Plumas-Sierra Fairgrounds in Quincy, California it’s time for the announcement that makes it all real: the lists of Troubadour Sessions participants and the first batch of Artist Playshops. And neither disappoints. Plus, organizers revealed the Artists-At-Large for High Sierra ‘18 which reads like a list the JamBase Team would put together.
Let’s start with the Artist Playshops and news that should bring huge smiles to the faces of many longtime High Sierra attendees. The Slip and Nathan Moore will combine forces to present “Surprise! It’s A Surprise Surprise Me Mr. Davis Playshop.” When both The Barr Brothers and Moore were featured on this year’s lineup, fans were hopeful the supergroup Surprise Me Mr. Davis and/or The Slip would somehow reunite to play their first sets since appearances at High Sierra ‘15. For those unfamiliar, SMMD features The Slip with Moore and Marco Benevento. The Slip (Brad Barr and Andrew Barr of The Barr Brothers along with bassist Marc Friedman) have played the festival more than any other band in the event’s 28-year history. So expectations are through the roof for just what Brad, Andrew, Nathan and Marc have in store for what’s sure to be a fun and emotional Playshop.
The California Honeydrops are another band that rose through the ranks over the years to move from the bottom of the festival’s lineup to the ninth highest-billed act on this year’s lineup. Last year the band toured the world opening for Bonnie Raitt and missed High Sierra. It’s nice to have them back and the band members will take turns discussing and describing the melange of influences that helped shape their one-of-a-kind sound at “Drinking From The Well With The California Honeydrops.”
Drummers are a vital part of any band but especially funk bands and this was never more true than in the 70’s. Two of the jam scene’s best and brightest drummers, The Motet’s Dave Watts and Michelangelo Carruba, will give love both musically and through stories about the 70’s drummers that influenced them during “Give The Drummer Some: A Retrospective Of ‘70s Funk Drummers.” Look for Dave and Mikey to recruit members of their respective bands and special friends to perform at what’s sure to be a winner.
Out of “The Golden Gate Gramble” Artist Playshops of the past featuring Bay Area musicians comes “Lebo’s High Sierra Ramble: 50 In The Rearview – Songs From 1968.” ALO guitarist Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz is another musician that helped make High Sierra the wonderful festival it is. Lebo will look back at the seminal year of 1968 and the diverse sounds that captured the music world’s attention 50 years ago with help from ALO bassist Steve Adams, the band’s supersub Ezra Lipp, singer-songwriter Cris Jacobs, rowdy rocker Scott Pemberton and members of Fruition.
If Lebo is setting the High Sierra musical time machine back 50 years for the Artist Playshop he’s leading, the time machine moves forward ten years to the magical year of 1978 for “Classic Album Hour: Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus.” Little Feat’s iconic double live album was recorded during seven 1977 performances and released in 1978. Simon Kurth of South Lake Tahoe psychedelic jazz and rock band Mescalito and his mates will play classic cuts from Waiting For Columbus along with a stellar batch of special guests that includes Lebo, Lipp, Jacobs, keyboard wizard Holly Bowling and more.
Additionally, two long-standing Artist Playshop traditions continue this year. The Grateful Bluegrass Boys will host the “High Sierra Bluegrass Pick” and Tea Leaf Green’s Eric DiBerardino will front “Guitarmageddon.” The former will feature an open jam session after a complete performance of the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, while the latter will be a tribute to the music of the late Tom Petty. This will be your chance to find out why “Guitarmageddon” has made so many lists of High Sierra highlights documented by the JamBase Team over the past decade-plus. Stay tuned for more Artist Playshops to be announced.
Now it’s time to talk Troubadour Sessions. While there are plenty opportunities to see improvised, wild and adventurous music at High Sierra, these intimate performances showcase the power of the song and the skill of songwriting. The musicians take turns telling fascinating stories about their tunes before performing them. Attendees are typically extremely respectful of the stoic setting, waiting until the end of a song to enter or leave the tiny Mineral Building (and hopefully dropping a few bucks in the donation bucket, which go directly to the artists). If you have plans after the Troubadour Session here’s a warning you might not be leaving so fast once you’re taken in by this one-a-kind experience.
The Troubadour Sessions begin on Thursday night with Cris Jacobs, John Craigie, Lech Wierzynski (The California Honeydrops) and Kattia Racine (Pixie & The Partygrass Boys). On Friday, Lebo will team with Steve Poltz, Aaron Redner (Grateful Bluegrass Boys) and Liam McCormick (The Family Crest). Saturday will feature the return of Nathan Moore to the Mineral Building stage along with Brad Barr, J.T. Nero (Birds Of Chicago) and Allison Russell (Birds Of Chicago). The Troubadour Sessions come to a close with a Sunday lineup featuring Nat Keefe, Ezra Lipp and Bo Carper.
Finally, High Sierra has tapped five incredible musicians as this year’s Artists-at-Large. As noted above, Nathan Moore is already aboard for an Artist Playshop and Troubadour Session but keep your eyes out for additional performances from a singer-songwriter that doesn’t get enough credit for his versatility. The same applies to Lebo on all accounts as the guitarist also has an all-star Lebo & Friends set scheduled. Let’s see where else he turns up. Then there’s Trey Anastasio Band mates Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet/vocals) and Natalie Cressman (trombone/vocals), who are no strangers to the role of Artist-At-Large having held down the position aboard Jam Cruise. Plus, saxophonist Skerik will bring his weird and wily talents to a number of High Sierra performances as the fifth and final Artist-At-Large.
All of the Artist Playshops and Troubadour Sessions come in addition to performances on the three stages from The String Cheese Incident, Sturgill Simpson, Grace Potter, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, Foundation Of Funk featuring Zigaboo Modeliste, George Porter Jr., Cyril Neville, Ivan Neville and Tony Hall, Lotus, The Floozies and dozens more. The full slate of late night shows was announced in April. Tickets for the High Sierra Music Festival are on sale now here.
High Sierra 2018 Artist Playshops
- Surprise! It’s A Surprise Me Mr. Davis Playshop
- Give The Drummer Some: A Retrospective Of ’70s Funk Drummers
- Drinking From The Well With The California Honeydrops
- Lebo’s High Sierra Ramble: 50 In The Rearview – Songs From 1968
- Classic Album Hour: Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus
- High Sierra Bluegrass Pick: Grateful Bluegrass Boys
- Guitarmageddon: Guitarmageddon Honors Tom Petty
- + More To Be Announced
High Sierra 2018 Troubadour Sessions
- Cris Jacobs
- John Craigie
- Lech Wierzynski (The California Honeydrops)
- Kattia Racine (Pixie & The Partygrass Boys)
- Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz
- Steve Poltz
- Aaron Redner (Grateful Bluegrass Boys
- Liam McCormick (The Family Crest)
- Nathan Moore
- Brad Barr
- J.T. Nero (Birds Of Chicago)
- Allison Russell (Birds Of Chicago)
- Nat Keefe
- Ezra Lipp
- Bo Carper
- + Friends
High Sierra 2018 Artists-at-Large
- Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz
- Nathan Moore
- Jennifer Hartswick
- Natalie Cressman